Provence’s history extends from Roman ruins in cities like Arles and Aix-en-Provence to what’s swirling in your glass, since wine-growing here dates back 26 centuries – making Provence France’s first wine region.
Provence is a living French fairytale: hills blanketed in rows of blossoming lavender, medieval villages carved into cliff sides, hairpin turns whipping you through oak forests sprinkled with truffles, or, as they’re referred to locally, black ‘diamonds’. In the summer, the cicadas are chirping so loudly, the background noise serves as a soundtrack to days spent lounging poolside, sipping rosé so pale it would be easy to mistake the wine for blanc.
Extending from Monaco and the Italian border, Provence encompasses the South of France, the sunflower-filled countryside, the saltmarshes of the Camargue, and medieval towns where the light and landscape inspired painters like Picasso and Matisse.
While Provence itself is too large to tackle in a weekend (let alone a week), you can still experience a slice of the region on a road trip through the vines, lingering over long lunches prepared with ingredients plucked from the surrounding gardens and beautiful bottles brought over from nearby wineries. Here’s how to map out your trip.
Day 1: Avignon to Gargas
Board the train from Paris to Avignon (approximately 2.5 hours on the fast TGV) and rent a car when you arrive at the station. Make the 45-minute drive to Coquillade Provence Resort & Spa (Hameau Le Perrotet, 84400 Gargas), a Relais & Châteaux property that extends across a 40ha estate in the heart of the Luberon Valley, overlooking Provence’s highest peak, Mont Ventoux. The hotel takes over an 11th-century hamlet and still has the feel of a Provençal village, with suites scattered across a handful of renovated stone bastides, or country houses.
Spend the afternoon getting pampered at the spa – the largest in the region – alternating between the indoor pool, sauna and hammam, before heading to the al fresco centrepiece poolside bar for a pre-dinner apéritif. Take a short stroll and settle into a table in the vines at aptly-named Les Vignes. Chefs Thierry Enderlin and Aurélien Trousse ‘go to the market for research,’ as they say when describing their Provence-focused fare that’s sourced locally from the Luberon or picked from the onsite vegetable patch.
A dish or two changes every two weeks, but expect to find a menu of elevated regional favourites like stuffed zucchini flowers with chèvre and basil pesto from the garden. Order a bottle of organic Aureto wine, crafted from the surrounding vines at the hotel’s onsite winery. The tasting room, a 10-minute bike ride away, also serves wine by the glass alongside cheese and charcuterie plates, if you’re looking for a light lunch while you’re here.
Day 2: Roussillon, Lacoste & Ménerbes
After fuelling up at the lavish breakfast spread, make your way to the hotel’s cycling centre, affiliated with Swiss brand BMC (Andy Rihs, the hotel’s Swiss billionaire owner, was also a backer of the WorldTour BMC Racing Team and head of the bike manufacturer). This part of Provence is just as infamous for its cycling routes (the Tour de France passes through the region) as its road trips, so spend the morning exploring the easier-to-cycle country roads on a guided tour (request Gaetan as your guide).
Cycle past horse-filled pastures and cherry trees up to perched villages built on rust-red cliffs that have earned the area the nickname ‘Provence’s Colorado’. Get your camera ready when you reach the top of Roussillon – they say there are at least 17 shades of ochre smeared across the homes of the clifftop village, named one of the most beautiful in France.
Check out of Coquillade and make the 20-minute drive up to the impressively-preserved medieval village of Lacoste, crowned by the Marquis de Sade’s castle. French fashion designer Pierre Cardin has infused life into Lacoste since acquiring the château, launching an opera festival in the nearby quarries and scooping up another 30 buildings lining the town’s cobblestoned streets. The tiny town doubles as a living museum, so sit and soak up the views from the terrace of Café de France (one of the few brasseries in town).
From here, it’s less than 10 minutes driving along winding roads to your next stop for the night: La Bastide de Marie (64 Chemin des Peirelles, 84560 Ménerbes), a countryside-chic hotel and wine estate in Ménerbes. The Sibuet family brought their trademark laid-back elegance to the farmhouse, which dates back to the 18th century. The layout is intended to feel as if you’re staying in a family home, with 14 rooms and suites located on different levels and shuttered windows looking out over the patio, vineyard, or garden.
As the sun sets, take a seat on the terrace by the vines, sipping Pastis and nibbling on charcuterie and crudités before moving over to the other side of the bastide, where white tablecloth-covered wrought iron tables (sourced from local flea markets) dot the patio in front of the vine-covered façade of the farmhouse. Don’t expect a set menu – chef François Martin’s dishes depend on what he finds at local farms or picks up from producers in the morning. Think fish roasted with herbs from the garrigue or lamb with Provençal tian, roasted, layered vegetables served in a traditional earthenware dish of the same name.
Day 3: Gordes & Crillon-le-Brave
After one last look at Domaine de Marie’s vines over viennoiserie and coffee, hop back in the car and set off on a short (but scenic!) drive to Gordes, one of the most popular perched villages in the region – both for the view from the drive up as well as the view once you get there (the houses and buildings hug the side of the cliff). Stroll the criss-crossing calades (pebble-paved streets), stopping for a second coffee or first glass of wine of the day at La Bastide (61 Rue de la Combe, 84220 Gordes), an antique-filled, Old World beauty built into the medieval ramparts that nods to the homes once belonging to the Counts of Provence.
Then, it’s back on the road and along the winding cliffs to another hilltop village: Crillon-le-Brave. The drive may only be 40 minutes, but the twists and turns (and views over the cliffside) make it one of the most scenic of the trip. The highlight of this town is the labyrinth-like boutique hotel Crillon le Brave (Place de l’Eglise, 84410 Crillon-le-Brave). Secret passages and tucked-away terraces connect the dozen stone homes forming the hotel’s 34 airy rooms and suites. You’ll want to set aside the afternoon to lounge at the tucked-away pool, which shows off one of the best views over Mont Ventoux.
Start the evening with a glass of local wine, enjoying the view from the terrace lounge before walking up the steps to dine at bistro-style La Table du Ventoux, where chef Adrien Brunet reimagines Provençal staples like pissaladière and works with ingredients as local as herbs sourced from the garden above the swimming pool.
Day 4: Saint-Rémy-de-Provence & Arles
The drive to Arles is just over an hour, and it conveniently runs through or near a few towns worth stopping in: Avignon, Les Baux-de-Provence, and Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. If you have to choose just one, I’d suggest spending the morning in Saint-Rémy, a compact town with centuries-old fountains, gorgeous sandstone homes, rows of plane trees, sophisticated wine cellars and bohemian-style shops you’d more expect to see in Saint-Tropez. The rustic-chic town, shielded by the remnants of a 14th-century wall, was where Van Gogh painted ‘Starry Night’, but it’s also a getaway for fashionable Parisians heading to Provence. If you’re driving through on a Wednesday, sip your coffee at Le Café de la Place (17 Place de la République, 13210 Saint-Rémy-de-Provence) before perusing the weekly market.
It’s a quick, 30-minute drive to the centre of Arles, where you’ll park and head for a late lunch on the shaded terrace or rooftop of L’Épicerie du Cloître (16 Rue du Cloître, 13200 Arles), where ingredients on the shelves of the shop inside range from those from Japan to artisanal canneries in the Mediterranean and Provence. Plates are tapas-style (Camargue rice- and bacalao-stuffed arancini, grilled almonds with Provençal herbs) and more snacks than full dishes – which makes it the ideal spot for pre-dinner apéro, as well.
Check into the newish guesthouse from one of the region’s most famous fragrance brands, Fragonard, which converted an 18th-century stone building formerly housing a pharmacist’s laboratory. Maison Fragonard’s (Impasse Favorin rue Favorin, 13200 Arles) six rooms are spread across three floors above the brand’s boutique and outfitted with antiques like wrought-iron daybeds and hand-embroidered suzani bedspreads from Central Asia.
Pass through the neighbouring square, Place du Forum, where Van Gogh painted another famous piece, ‘Terrasse du Café le Soir’, and head to Cave de Trinquetaille (8 Avenue de la Gare Maritime, 13200 Arles) for natural wine and the sound of vinyl. For dinner this evening, take a seat on the streetside terrace of cave à manger Le Gibolin (13 Rue des Porcelets, 13200 Arles) for a mix of classic and more creative takes on French fare, like labneh-topped pea velouté and ricotta-and-pine nut-stuffed zucchini. There’s a small selection of wines by the glass, but it’s worth going for one of the well-priced bottles lining the shelves inside.
Day 5: Camargue
Before ending your trip and heading south to the French Riviera, to the airport in Marseille or back to the train station in Avignon, set off through the rice paddies and rosé-hued salt flats of the Camargue, where residents range from flamingos to cloud-coloured horses. The destination: La Chassagnette (Mas de la Chassagnette Chemin du Sambuc, 13200 Arles), your Michelin star meal for the trip. Chef Armand Arnal pulls the majority of ingredients from his surrounding vegetable garden – where he grows more than 200 varieties of fruit and vegetables – or nearby farms for 5- or 7-course tastings menus that are gastronomic yet approachable (think delicately-plated dishes like aubergine brulée with almonds and sage).
A good chunk of the wine menu champions southern French wineries and local growers, and the sommelier is happy to help you navigate by the glass or bottle. Plan to linger under the shaded terrace the entire afternoon – this is when time truly doesn’t matter, as long as you’re not late for your reservation. This is a tough table to get, so reserve well in advance. It’ll be worth it.